1

I have a desktop computer running Windows 7 Ultimate. We are several at home to use that computer, mainly to watch movies, listen music, store (hundreds of thousands) pictures of family events through the years and, for little kids and cousins, to play games or whatever sometimes.

... and we are running out of available disk space.

Almost all of us also has their own laptop or smartphone and are starting to fill their drives, and we are constantly bothering each over to watch this or listen to this, sharing documents via USB flash disks...

We have a wifi and ethernet network.

So :

The questions is : what are the steps to configure that desktop computer to get much more room for datas shared across LAN, while keeping the current files, current OS and program files/games to make it usable as any other personal computer, and implementing a minimal storage security using RAID 5.

Three Options I'm thinking of below (Hints welcomed for Option 1) I just want to select one while being sure I'm doing it right.

ie, the requirements are listed as follow (most important first) :

  • machine usable as any other personal computer
  • maximum available storage
  • without reinstalling everything ? (the kids will complain loosing their scores...)
  • enabling RAID5 to allow one occurence of disk failure
  • sharing that RAID 5 storage through LAN (<- a little off topic)

Though, one thing I want to make sure first : A RAID array is just like one hard drive right ? So, I'm right thinking that you can put an OS, folders, applications, datas, etc. in that drive and share the folders like any other drive ? Right ? Nothing special to take care of ?

The mainboard is an ASUS P5Q Pro. It has 6 S-ATA connectors, and provides RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 capabilities for 6 independant S-ATA connectors via the Intel controller. RAID is not enabled at the moment. Only one 500Gb drive is currently connected, with one 127Gb system partition and the remaining for Datas. Both partitions are nearly full.

We are thinking of :

  • either buy 3 500Gb drives -> 4 drives RAID 5 including the one already installed ?
  • either buy 3 1Tb drives -> 3 drives RAID 5, leaving the 500Gb alone...

Should confess/what I know :

  • I just learned about RAID yesterday. Used to backup files manually, never able to use RAID simply because never had two identical drives.
  • RAID is about backup storage and has nothing to do with shared datas. I just mentionned the sharing thing to make sure that doesn't interfere with the goal of enabling RAID while increasing the available storage.
  • however, due to the kind of data and its importance in our life, using RAID 5 is interresting as it both provide some relative safe way to store datas, and maximize the amount of space available to store them (which RAID 1 and 10 don't - RAID 0 is useless in case of one drive failure)
  • I know only the size of the smallest disk counts.
  • It seems software emulated RAID are highly discouraged in the dozens of page results I've read. One that wants to enable RAID should do it before a clean Windows installation in the BIOS.
  • I know a simultaneous failure on two drives in RAID 5 will send everything to hell. We aren't doing business on that computer, aren't querying databases, etc. That may happen, we'll just have to deal with it.
  • I know RAID is not backup, just a non-fail safe security against disk failure (or performance booster) Each of us has his own way to deal with backups. If I like much a movie, I would have a copy in my laptop along with the one in that desktop and perhaps another one in the smartphone.
  • In our city/Country, we have one or two electrical power failure a day on average (not a joke) We're running fast out of space because we have about 4 or 5 copies of the same movie across a dozen machines... hardware failure occurs 4 times a year on average.

Option 1 : 4 x 500Gb HDD - Hardware driven RAID : how to keep datas ?

  • Buy 3 x 500Gb new disks.
  • Plug one of the disk (G:)
  • Move everything of importance from system disk C: and data D: to G:.
  • Format D:
  • Merge back C: and D: to form one single 500Gb partition.
  • ... then, I don't know what to do

At this stage, I have 4 disks with the same capacity, but one full of datas. I have no more available space anywhere else.

Workaround 1 ?
Is it possible to enable RAID 5 on 3 empty disks, install Windows (and softwares), move everything from the 4th disk in the RAID disk, format the 4th disk, then increasing the RAID array from 3 to 4 ?

.

Workaround 2 ?
Other people seems to be able to activate RAID while keeping their datas (without backing them up elswhere in the activation process) Is this strictly impossible with hardware RAID ? Because if it's possible, that's the solution I'm looking for.


Option 2 : Software driven RAID

  • Buy 3 x 500Gb HDD
  • Plug one of them/format
  • Temporary move valuable C: and D: datas in the new drive
  • Format D:
  • Merge back C: and D: in one single C: Partition.
  • Move back datas in C:
  • Plug the 2 other new drives
  • Launch RAID Software X
  • Activates the 4 disks as RAID 5 Array and let the software rearrange the files
  • With the 500Gb already available, it would allow about 1500Gb of data.

Right checklist ?

I don't really get what's wrong with software driven RAID for home/personal/family systems. But I tend to avoid doing wrong things whenever possible. If Option 1 above is not possible, I would go for this one or Option 3.


Option 3 : Give up !

  • Buy 3 x 1Tb HDD
  • Remove the 500Gb drive
  • Plug the 3 new drives
  • Enable RAID 5 in Bios (would allow ~2Gb of storage)
  • Install Windows
  • Plug the 500Gb drive
  • Copy datas from the two partitions to C:

Why I don't like Option 3 is because it's more expensive. We live in the third world and the price of a hard drive is almost 2 or 3 months of salary for some of us (without buying food nor paying bills)


Note :

  • Buying a NAS box (the box where you put the drives ? and plug it on the network) is not an option. Most important thing is available storage. Any expense in a not mandatory gadget (NAS) will end in another hard drive instead..
  • Using the new disks for backup storage waste only is not an option. That's the main reason of the RAID 5 choice. This would allow anyone of us to move the files they intend to share, from their devices (laptop/desktop) to this 4 HDD storage to avoid lots of duplicates. The goal is to centralize the files in one well structured place while freeing disk space on each personal device.
  • Online services for backups are not an option either. Our internet network is too slow and usually fails one or two hours on a daily basis.
  • No Linux or iOS things. We are 100% Windows and Android.

TL;DR :

what are the steps to configure a personal desktop computer with Windows 7 Ultimate OS to get much more room for datas by the addition of 3 new hard drive that will be setup as RAID 5 array (disabled at the moment) then shared across LAN, while keeping the current files, current OS and program files/games, to make it usable as any other personal computer ?

Thanks.

1

Though, one thing I want to make sure first : A RAID array is just like one hard drive right ? So, I'm right thinking that you can put an OS, folders, applications, datas, etc. in that drive and share the folders like any other drive ? Right ? Nothing special to take care of ?

Correct. The only thing you need to be concerned about is ensuring the OS has the RAID controller's driver available to it while installing the OS (so it can see the RAID volume).

Is it possible to enable RAID 5 on 3 empty disks, install Windows (and softwares), move everything from the 4th disk in the RAID disk, format the 4th disk, then increasing the RAID array from 3 to 4 ?

The ability to expand an existing array without losing data is dependant on the RAID controller used. Many/most desktop and low-end RAID controllers will not support that feature.

Other people seems to be able to activate RAID while keeping their datas (without backing them up elswhere in the activation process) Is this strictly impossible with hardware RAID ? Because if it's possible, that's the solution I'm looking for.

Again, this depends on the RAID controller's features. Most allow taking a single drive and creating a RAID1 (mirror) without losing the data on the original drive. I don't think I've ever seen one that allows going to RAID5 without having to fully reformat the drives during initialization. Again, check for the feature with your RAID controller's manufacturer.

The choice of software vs. hardware vs. firmware RAID controllers is up to you. High-end hardware controllers are always the 'best' choice, but you know your budget and concerns better than anyone, so you decide. :)

Suggested method (regardless of RAID type chosen):

  • Get an external drive with the same (or larger) capacity as your existing drive.
  • Use Windows image backup to perform a full-system image backup to the external drive.
  • Setup and initialize your RAID (and other drive(s)) how you'd like.
  • Boot from your Windows DVD, provide the RAID controller driver, and restore your backup (choosing the volume you'd like your OS on as the target).

Note: If you data is important you should be making a full backup before playing with the drives, regardless of the route you chose to take. Even if the chosen route to create your RAID includes a method that claim you'll get to keep you data during the array creation.

  • Thank you very much. Clear and complete answer with all concerns addressed. I'll check the RAID controller features - will try the manufacturer support - then decide. Anyway (even if the controller can increase the array without reformatting), as advised, I would go for a backup drive, either a 5th 500Gb in the 4 x 500Gb option, or unpluging the original drive in Option 3 and use the External 3.5 Enclosure we already have. :) – Karl Stephen Nov 27 '14 at 6:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.